Looking back at a historic first year

November 13, 2006


November 13, 2006

One year ago, my City Council colleagues elected me to serve as San Diego’s first-ever council president, a position created by the voter-approved transition to a strong mayor/strong council form of city government. It has been my honor to serve in this historic role and help define what it means to serve as council president. Today the council will select its president for 2007.

When I took office 11 months ago, I laid out a series of goals to help move San Diego forward. My highest priority continues to be working with Mayor Jerry Sanders, my council colleagues and the city attorney to restore the city’s financial integrity and create a new set of “best practices” that allow our city government to operate in a way that is efficient, transparent and accountable.

The council has had an excellent year on this front. The council placed the mayor’s reform measures on the ballot, received the long-awaited Kroll report, scheduled four special financial meetings and approved in concept all 121 of the mayor’s financial reform proposals. Thanks to the work of Mayor Sanders, his financial team and the City Council, we are only a few months away from completing our long-overdue audits and returning to the national credit markets.

Earlier this year, we embarked on an ambitious reform plan that includes new responsibilities, enhanced financial training and an overhaul of the city’s financial systems. If re-elected to serve as council president, I will continue to work with the mayor and my council colleagues to enact reforms to protect taxpayers.

One of the biggest changes we made this year was in the way the City Council does business. In order to create a system that is more predictable and user-friendly, we rearranged the order of business on Mondays and Tuesday, shifting all proclamations and non-agenda public comment to Tuesday mornings. This allows Monday and Tuesday afternoons to be dedicated to business items for which we expect public testimony. I hope this allows more residents to attend and participate in our meetings, without requiring them to spend the entire day at City Hall, unsure when they will get their chance to speak. It also allows us to save money by avoiding the extra costs associated with late-night meetings.

My other goals for this year are focused on day-to-day quality of life issues, which have been overshadowed in recent years by our legal and financial issues. This year I vowed to return the council’s focus to our neighborhoods by improving public safety, our precious natural resources, and our streets and sidewalks.

We’ve made progress in these areas as well. This year, the council made clear its intention to seriously address the needs of our life-safety agencies, which are losing some of their most experienced officers. This council must address the issues of police compensation during next year’s budget talks. If re-elected as council president, I would work with the mayor and my colleagues to create and fund a comprehensive and realistic police retention plan.

The council took a number of steps this year to protect the city’s natural resources, including the tobacco control ordinance, passed unanimously by the City Council to prohibit smoking at city beaches and parks. The city also entered into an agreement with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to prevent urban runoff from spoiling the Areas of Special Biological Significance off the coast of La Jolla. We are nearly ready to approve the update of our general plan, governing the city’s future growth.

Next year the city will again have access to the public credit markets, allowing us to resume work on the backlog of deferred maintenance on streets, water and wastewater systems, parks and libraries. With the total cost of deferred maintenance pegged somewhere around $400 million, it won’t happen overnight, but the city took a good first step this year in allocating $20 million toward repairing streets and public safety upgrades. Next year, the council will list its priorities and fund them accordingly.

None of this will be easy as we tackle difficult pension-funding issues, rising health care costs and decades of deferred maintenance. In addition, we are a low-revenue city compared with other cities in California and the nation. If we are to continue operating parks, libraries and other public programs, and adequately funding our public safety agencies, we must ultimately find new sources of revenue.

I am impressed but not surprised by the progress the city has been able to make so far in this first year of our new form of government. It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve as a member of the City Council and as council president. I look forward to the many great things we can accomplish in 2007.




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